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What Happens If You Run Out of Heating Oil in Your Tank?

Fall is here — the days are getting shorter, and the air is a bit crisper. Leaves are falling, and thoughts of warm sweaters and hot chocolate are becoming more frequent. However, fall is also the perfect time to prepare your home — and your oil tank — for winter.

Approximately 5.5 million U.S. homes rely on heating oil to keep warm during the winter. Oil heat systems are efficient and convenient, and they outlast their natural gas and propane counterparts.

If you rely on oil to keep your home warm during those cold Northeast winters, then you know fall is the right time to have your oil tank filled so that you’re ready for colder temperatures. But even if you plan ahead, you might get caught with an empty oil tank. What happens when you run out of heating oil? And what can you do to avoid this problem?

Will Running Out of Heating Oil Damage My Furnace or Tank?

The simple answer to whether running out of heating oil will damage your furnace or tank is probably not. If your oil tank goes dry for a day or two once while you own it, you probably won’t experience long-term problems. However, if it’s empty for a while or you allow it to run dry frequently, you will likely encounter some damage.

What happens if a tank runs out of heating oil? When your oil tank runs out of oil, your furnace will automatically shut off. Oil furnaces are built with an emergency shutoff feature that signals the furnace to turn itself off if there’s no oil to power it. That way, the furnace doesn’t attempt to run without fuel — which reduces the potential for significant damage.

Running out of oil likely won’t completely ruin your furnace, but it can cause problems with the filter, oil pump, and oil line. Depending on how long the furnace stays off, you may end up needing to have the oil line bled and replace the filter before the furnace can be restarted. Besides the cost of replacement parts, you’ll also end up paying for an experienced technician to come out to repair and replace these damaged components. In some cases, water may also condense inside the oil tank, causing it to rust. If left undetected, the rust can mix in with the fuel oil and clog the line, filter, and other parts of your furnace.

Basically, if your tank is empty for a few hours or a day or two, you probably won’t encounter a need for major repairs. But if you leave it empty for a longer period, you’ll likely end up spending money for oil and repairs.

What Should I Do If I Run Out of Heating Oil?

It’s completely natural to experience a few minutes of panic when you realize your heater isn’t doing its job, but these simple steps will help you get your tank filled and your house at a comfortable temperature again.

1. Identify the Source of the Problem

Before you do anything, inspect your tank and furnace to confirm that a lack of oil is the reason you have no heat. Check the tank’s gauge, as well as the furnace itself, to see if a problem is apparent. In some cases, especially if you’ve had a recent fuel oil delivery, the issue may be mechanical. If you aren’t sure what the problem is, it’s a good idea to call a qualified HVAC repair company and have them look at the system.

2. Call to Schedule Oil Delivery

If your gauge shows that the oil tank is empty, then your next step should be to call your oil company to schedule a delivery. Depending on when you call, it could take a few days before your oil arrives.

3. Purchase Diesel or Kerosene

Although reputable companies like Shipley Energy can provide prompt emergency service, it may not always arrive as quickly as you want it, especially if there is inclement weather. You may need to find an alternative heat source, such as diesel or kerosene, in the meantime.

Using an empty 5-gallon gas can, go to the nearest gas station, fill the can with diesel, and add it to your oil tank once you get home. After you have put the diesel into your fuel tank, allow it to sit for 10 minutes so that any sediment or impurities can settle to the bottom of the tank. Once the impurities have time to settle, power up your furnace and allow clean diesel to run through the fuel line into your furnace.

Adding diesel or kerosene to any remaining fuel oil can help it last a little longer and prevent your tank from running dry while you wait for your next delivery.

4. Restart Your Furnace

Once the diesel or kerosene has been allowed to sit for 10 minutes, it’s time to fire up the furnace. Most furnaces can be reset by pushing the reset button — it’s usually red — located on the furnace. Ideally, it should restart the first time you press the button, but if you have a more stubborn furnace, you may need to push the reset button two or three times to get it going.

5. Call the Pros When Trouble Strikes

If your furnace doesn’t turn on when you’ve added replacement fuel into the tank, that may mean the line between the tank and the furnace needs to be bled. This is more common if the furnace has been off for a while and is best left to professional HVAC technicians. A technician can properly bleed the line and check for any other blockages or problems inside the furnace that may prevent it from running efficiently.

How to Prevent Running Out of Heating Oil

Even though running out of oil won’t necessarily ruin your furnace or oil tank, it’s not a good idea to allow a tank to run dry. Here’s how to prevent running out of heating oil, so you don’t leave your family in the cold.

1. Fill Your Tank Before It Runs Out

The most obvious way to avoid running out of heating oil is to fill it before it runs out. As a general rule of thumb, aim to have your tank refilled as soon as it hits 1/4 full. You can keep an eye on the gauge or install a tank monitor, then schedule deliveries whenever you see it hit the 1/4 mark. Your fuel oil provider can also help you estimate how frequently you’ll need to refill your tank and then recommend an automatic delivery schedule based on your needs.

2. Improve Your Home’s Insulation

While this may not prevent you from running out of fuel oil, having a well-insulated home can keep you more comfortable while you wait for more fuel to arrive. Check windows and doors for gaps and cracks that may let in cold air — or allow heat to escape — and repair them with draft blockers, weatherstripping, or caulking.

Additionally, if you have them, check to make sure your attic and crawlspace are properly insulated. If you have a fireplace or woodstove, have them inspected and repaired so that you can rely on them as a backup source of heat in an emergency.

3. Invest in a Tank Monitor

A tank monitor keeps track of your oil usage and uses smart technology to keep you informed about what’s in your tank. A monitor will alert you via email or text when tank levels are low so that you can schedule your next oil delivery. This technology also allows you to monitor tank levels and get an idea of how quickly you go through fuel. Over time, it will help you anticipate when your tank supply will start to dwindle, helping you plan ahead for deliveries when you need them.

4. Conserve Fuel

One of the best ways to stretch a tank of fuel is to conserve energy use in your home. Instead of cranking up the heat when it gets cold, add a sweater or pair of slippers to your attire. At night, add flannel sheets or an extra blanket to your bed. In rooms that get a lot of direct sunlight, keep shades and curtains open during the day and use the natural light to add heat to the room.

You might also sip a warm cup of coffee while you read the morning news, and if you use the oven, crack the oven door open after you’re done cooking to allow the residual heat to escape into your kitchen. All of these are great ways to add heat to your home without bumping up the thermostat. When you are able to keep the thermostat down, you can conserve oil, and you won’t run out as quickly.

5. Budget Appropriately

Sometimes money is tight, and you try to stretch out the oil you have left so that you can wait to pay for delivery later. However, this puts you at greater risk of running out of fuel oil at an inopportune time. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping you’ll have enough in the bank when you need it, make a point to add fuel costs into your monthly budget. Using what you paid in fuel costs last year as a guide, resolve to set aside a certain amount of money each month so that you’ll have what you need when it comes time to refuel.

6. Enroll in an Automatic Heating Oil Delivery Program

One of the best ways to prevent your oil tank from running dry is to enroll in an automatic delivery program. Shipley Energy’s automatic delivery program ensures you won’t run out of oil, and it gives you access to our capped and fixed-rate pricing plans. The automatic plan allows you to schedule regular deliveries on a set schedule. This means deliveries are made before your tank dips below a certain point, and you never have to wonder if you’ll have enough to get through the winter.

We’re big fans of this convenient service, but it’s important to point out that an automatic delivery program doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the other things listed above. Regardless of the delivery option you choose, it’s a good idea to monitor your tank levels and budget for fuel costs each month. Besides that, conserving fuel can save you money over time.

Automatic Heating Oil Delivery From Shipley Energy

Shipley Energy is proud to offer a variety of ordering options for homeowners who want to avoid being caught with an empty fuel tank and cold home in the middle of winter.

1. One-Time Online Ordering

If you prefer to monitor your tank levels yourself, then one-time ordering might be right for you. When your tank monitor or gauge tells you that the oil levels have dropped to 1/4 full, place an order through our self-guided online system. Our system will walk you through the entire order process, including our pricing options. This allows you to control when you order and how much you get. You only pay for what you need, and you only make a payment when you place the order.

2. Automatic Delivery

Shipley Energy’s automatic delivery is the best way to guarantee that you’ll never run out of heating oil, especially for a family on the go. When you enroll in our automatic delivery program, we place you on a regular rotation based on your home’s energy needs. Besides preventing an empty fuel tank, automatic delivery is a great way to take advantage of our fixed-rate and capped pricing plans. These plans can help avoid seasonal spikes in oil prices and make it easier to budget for your fuel needs.

What Happens If I Run Out of Heating Oil?

Even with the best of intentions, there may come a time when you run out of heating oil. What happens if your heating oil tank runs out? Let Shipley Energy help! We offer heating oil delivery to select Pennsylvania and Maryland locations, along with outstanding customer service and competitive pricing for one-time and returning customers’ needs. With 90 years in the business, we provide heating oil when you need it. Our trained technicians can also repair any damage that results from an empty tank. Fuel oil delivery shouldn’t be stressful, and we do our best to make the process as simple as possible.

For more information about our competitive rates, check us out online. To learn more about our residential heating oil services, get in touch with us at 855-275-9720 or fill out our contact form today.